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Friday, 25 April 2014

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Cumbrian college aims to ease students' travel costs burden

Newton Rigg College hopes to protect students potentially facing huge travel bills if Cumbria County Council slashes subsidies for home-to-college transport.

Newton Rigg principal Wes Johnson photo
Wes Johnson

Some would have to fork out £999 for a bus pass if the cuts go through.

Until 2011, the council provided free transport for sixth formers and college students. Since then, they have had to pay £350 for a subsidised annual bus pass.

Now the council wants to do away with these, making students meet the full cost of travel. It says this would save £1m a year.

Newton Rigg would be particularly badly hit. The college near Penrith specialises in agriculture and land management, and draws students from a wide area.

Those travelling on the X9 bus from west Cumbria, for example, would have to fork out £999 for a Stagecoach Megarider Gold ticket if they had to pay their way.

Newton Rigg students have continued to enjoy free travel since 2011 because the college meets the £350 cost of a council pass.

But if the council withdrew all subsidies, the college would need to find £1,200 per student, on average, to keep travel free.

College principal Wes Johnson said: “Students travel to Newton Rigg College from all parts of the county, including some from very remote areas. For many, it is a vital element of being able to continue their education.

“At Newton Rigg we go the extra mile, which has resulted in our offering free transport for the past two years. We hope to continue to offer free transport to full-time students but will obviously review the position subject to the council’s decision.”

The proposals form part of a budget consultation, which closes on January 20.

  • The county council also plans to axe 40 dedicated bus services that ferry students to further education colleges.

These would stop running unless the colleges step in with funding. Ninety-nine students at Carlisle College use these buses, as do 149 at Newton Rigg and 157 at Lakes College in west Cumbria. Sixth formers using school buses might struggle too.

At the moment, the council ensures that all pupils can travel. Under the new arrangements, it would guarantee places only for under-16s.

Sixth formers would be able to use school buses only if there were spare seats.

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